Next Saturday, Oct. 4, Louisiana voters will take the first step toward choosing a new governor. This is a critical election at a critical time. Young people are leaving for better opportunities. Tax-weary businesses can't find educated employees, or they are laying workers off. Our state health care system is overwhelmed, and our disappearing coastline is only the most publicized of our environmental woes.

Despite these pressing problems, recent polls show that many Louisiana voters have been sleepwalking through the election. Admittedly, our choices often leave us less than inspired. Only 12 years ago, we endured the "race from hell" -- a runoff between former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and former Gov. Edwin Edwin Edwards. The campaign was an international embarrassment that exposed our twin political legacies of racial demagoguery and political corruption.

Our reputation for political corruption is fading, but we clearly need bold new leadership. Most of all, we need a governor who can raise the bar on economic development as well as integrity. We need a governor who's ready to hit the ground running, but who won't be stifled by allegiances to the status quo. In our view, one candidate best fits what Louisiana needs right now: Randy Ewing.

A businessman and former legislative leader, Randy Ewing has the integrity, the experience and the courage that Louisiana needs to turn itself around. He's not flashy. But he is solid, industrious and articulate. Most important, he has a vision of how great our state can be -- and he can be counted on to bring his vision to the corporate boardrooms and governmental corridors beyond our state's borders. He is a proven leader who delivers on his promises.

"I have the background and the experience to move the state forward," Ewing says. We agree.

A native of rural Jackson Parish in north Louisiana, Ewing owns a timber company and has invaluable experience as a banker and farmer. A fiscally conservative Democrat, he served in the Louisiana Senate for 12 years, beginning his tenure at a time when the Upper Chamber was known as "the graveyard of reform" and ending it as a reform leader. From 1996 until 2000, Ewing served as president of the Senate (a tenure we anticipated in a Dec. 19, 1995, cover story titled, "High Noon"). He pressed for ethical reforms, such as stopping legislators and government officials from doing business with the state. He also supported lobbyist disclosure laws and a ban on campaign fundraisers during legislative sessions. He authored numerous reform bills, including a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

Ewing works well with people of different backgrounds and will keep our diverse state focused on economic development. He opposes new taxes and will fight to repeal others that inhibit economic growth -- such as a tax on business loans and the sales tax on purchases of manufacturing machinery and equipment. He will streamline state spending while maximizing use of federal funds for health care, crime control, education and transportation.

Ewing has a laudable plan to leverage state and federal monies for an ambitious program to build 500 miles of new highways and repair 3,000 miles of existing roadways across our state. "We can jump start our economy by completing our trade routes," he says. He's right.

Ewing is a compassionate champion of education and juvenile justice reform. He vows to ensure that every child will be able to read by third grade. He likewise vows to build upon existing education reforms such as accountability. A dedicated children's advocate, he led legislative adoption of the Louisiana Children's Health Insurance Program, and he will expand LaCHIP to include pre-natal care.

Ewing also offers specific commitments for protecting the environment and our eroding coastline. He pledges to restore integrity to the state Department of Environmental Quality, which in recent years has failed to pursue polluters aggressively.

Finally, we share Mayor Ray Nagin's optimism that Gov. Randy Ewing will be a friend to New Orleans. We recognize that, as a senator, Ewing did not side with the city on every vote. However, while Ewing was Senate president -- and a member of the state Bond Commission -- Orleans Parish received $1.3 billion in capital outlay cash and bond funding for critical projects that serve the entire state, most notably the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the National D-Day Museum.

Simply put, we believe Randy Ewing will make the best governor of all the candidates who are running. To those who wonder if he can win, we say, "Ignore the polls." The only vote that counts is the one you will cast on Oct. 4. Despite our state's problems, we still believe in Louisiana -- because we believe in the inherent goodness and goodwill of her citizens. Randy Ewing has that same kind of optimism -- and the will to make a difference. Isn't it time Louisiana had a governor who was as good as her people?

We ask all our readers to join us in supporting Randy Ewing for governor. Above all, we urge everyone to vote Oct. 4.